Murata Mfg. , Ltd. v. Bel Fuse, Inc., No. 03 C 2934, 2007 WL 781252 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 8, 2007) (Cole, Mag. J.).

Judge Cole held that plaintiff’s inequitable conduct defense did not waive its privilege and, therefore, denied defendant’s motion to compel privileged documents.  Defendant asserted that plaintiff engaged in inequitable conduct by failing to disclose an allegedly material piece of prior art during prosecution of the patent-in-suit.  Defendant’s defense was essentially that their counsel and inventors fully understood their disclosure obligations and chose not to disclose the alleged prior art because  it was not material or even similar to the patent-in-suit.  Defendant argued that plaintiff waived its privilege when its 30(b)(6) deponent testified that:  1) he had been told that plaintiff’s in-house counsel instructed its prosecuting attorneys to disclose all relevant prior art to the PTO; and 2) that he was confident that the inventors understood their duties of disclosure based upon their past experience as patentees and the fact that they had each had several conversations with plaintiff’s prosecution counsel.  But the Court held that disclosure of the occurrence of these conversations, without disclosing any of the contents did not act as waiver.   The Court noted that if disclosure of the existence of these conversations without elaboration constituted wavier, then the exchange of privilege logs would also constitute waiver.

Defendant also argued that plaintiff impliedly waived its privilege by arguing that the allegedly material art was not material.  Defendant argued that this argument calls into question the understanding and beliefs of prosecution counsel, thereby waiving the privilege.  But the Court held that plaintiff’s contentions can be tested without any privileged information, simply by reviewing the prior art reference and comparing it to the patented invention.  The Court also noted that if it found waiver, any patentee faced with an inequitable conduct charge would be forced to choose between defending the charge and waiving privilege or acquiescing to the inequitable conduct charge to maintain its privilege.